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On recognition of Autism Awareness Month

Valley Morning Star - 4/16/2018

April contains a lot of Awareness Month activities?Alcohol Awareness, National Child Abuse Prevention, Stress Awareness, etc.: but I am now focusing on a condition that affects 1 in 68 children in our society; this disability is called Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism is a bio-neurological developmental disability that generally appears before the age of 3.

According to information obtained from the National Autism Association, Autism is a non-curable condition (but not hopeless or non-treatable); most recognized through its impact on the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills, and cognitive functions.

Individuals with Autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) under the classification of Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

Among some of the diagnostic criteria for the condition are: marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction; failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level; a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people; delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language; and a host of other symptoms that may be present.

Autism greatly varies from person to person; no two persons with the condition present the same.

Individuals with autism most often have physical and mental conditions as well, among them being: allergies, asthma, epilepsy, bowel disease, gastrointestinal/digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder (ADHD), sleeping disorders, immune disorders, and other conditions.

Many of you are familiar with the television program entitled "The Good Doctor."

The show is about Shaun Murphy, a young autistic surgeon, who equally has Savant Syndrome (he has intelligent abilities focused on a specific area) whom has relocated from a quiet country life to join the surgical department in a prestigious California hospital.

Having a difficult childhood, Shaun is alone in the world and unable to interact with those around him, but finds his niche using medical skills and intuition to save lives and challenge his colleagues.

Although this TV program presents an "atypical," overly positive depiction of autism that does not reflect reality for the majority of people with autism, Shaun's character does present many of the characteristics of the spectrum?the inability to have eye contact with others, etc.

Alison Singer, President of the Autism Science Foundation, writing in a recent article, describes many of the characteristics and difficulties faced by the person with autism. Most compelling is the broad range of abilities, and disabilities the person with autism faces.

Someone with autism can have a genius-level intelligence quotient or have intellectual disability and score far below average. It can include someone who has no language, minimal language or intact language.

It can apply to an individual who has self-injurious, aggressive behavior or someone who has trouble navigating the social scene in the school cafeteria. It can describe a person who graduated from Harvard Law School or an individual who exited high school with a certificate of attendance. Singer states that; "We need to start seeing characters on TV and in movies who reflect the breath of experiences of people with autism - not just the brilliant surgeon, but the child who bangs his head on the floor so hard and so often that his retina detaches; and not just the high school student who struggles to date, but the one who is so fascinated by the color yellow that he sits home alone watching "SpongeBob SquarePants" all day. Otherwise, people who are highly challenged and struggle every day are at risk of becoming invisible."

As mentioned previously, Autism is a non-curable condition, but not unlike other conditions of intellectual disabilities, there is treatment and hope. Early intervention is one of the main keys, leading to progress in helping those so afflicted; and in some cases the individual may be helped in overcoming certain characteristics of the condition. Early Intervention programs have existed since the 1970's, when I first began working in the field of Mental Health.

As is the case for all programs within our nation and state, funding has always been a major problem; yet this has been overcome with innovative, meaningful programs.

The Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District (CISD), not unlike the majority of school districts, offers assistance to many individuals with development diagnosis, to include autism. The "Child Find" process, a process to identify, locate, and evaluate individuals (birth through age 21) with disabilities who may need special education services remains very active; and the process provided by the school district follows:

Anyone can begin the process by calling the CISD Special Education Department at 427-3445. Once referred, parents and the school representatives will decide if an evaluation is needed, and then may develop an evaluation plan designed to assess areas of concern; the evaluation conducted by qualified school district/agency personnel.

The process continues with the parents and evaluation personnel meeting to discuss evaluation results, special education eligibility, and services provided.

For you parents or caretakers of children whom have symptoms of an intellectual and/or mental disability, I plea with you to get help for your child.

Please do not take the stand that "He/she will grow out of it," or similar excuses I have heard over the years?they won't! Help for you and your child is readily at hand. Until Next Time, Stay Healthy My Friends!


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